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Could College Athletes be Compensated for Likeness?

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Dec 1, 2018; Arlington, TX, USA; iOklahoma Sooners quarterback Kyler Murray (1) throws in the first quarter against the Texas Longhornsn the Big 12 championship game at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

*This piece first appeared in the Front Office Sports Newsletter. Subscribe today and get the news before anyone else.

NCAA Football might be coming back to gaming consoles sooner rather than later.

Thanks to an announcement from the NCAA, the governing body is looking into ways it can modify its rules to allow college athletes to be compensated for their names, images and likenesses.

What do you need to know? 

1. Big East Commissioner Val Ackerman and Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith will head up the working group exploring the options.

2. Including Ackerman and Smith, the working group will have 19 members.

3. The group will not consider any concepts that could be construed as payment for participation in college sports. 

4. The group will present a final report to the Board of Governors in October, with an update provided in August.

Why now?

While a solid reason for why the timing of this decision was not given, it’s no secret that the NCAA has been under fire for quite some time in regards to this very topic.

In fact, although the decision in the Alston Case didn’t end in free-market compensation sought by the plaintiffs, Judge Claudia Wilken noted that many of the “benefits” already being received by college athletes are equal “pay for play,” according to Dennis Dodd of CBS Sports.

What are they saying?

“We believe the time is right for these discussions and look forward to a thorough assessment of the many complexities involved in this area.” – Val Ackerman, Big East Commissioner

“While the formation of this group is an important step to confirming what we believe as an association, the group’s work will not result in paying students as employees.” – Gene Smith, Ohio State Athletic Director

College Athletics

California Opens Door for Student-Athletes

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Nov 24, 2018; Los Angeles, CA, USA; General overall view as Southern California Trojans quarterback JT Daniels (16) throws a pass against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
*This piece first appeared in the Front Office Sports Newsletter. Subscribe today and get the news before anyone else.

Student-athletes in California could be signing endorsement deals in the near future.

Senate Bill 206 by state Sen. Nancy Skinner would allow student-athletes in California to sign with agents and profit from endorsement. The bill, which cleared the state Senate yesterday, heads to the Assembly for consideration in the coming months, according to Melody Gutierrez of the LA Times.

What does the bill say? 

– The bill would treat student-athletes like Olympians and give them an opportunity to “earn income from their talent” while retaining their amateur status.

– The bill would allow student-athletes at public and private universities and colleges to earn money from the use of their name, image or likeness in endorsement deals starting in 2023.

– The bill would not allow the schools to directly pay athletes.

– The bill would bar schools from offering sponsorship deals to high school students as a recruitment tool.

Not everyone is for it…

While there is no precedent for what would happen if the bill were to become law in terms of how the NCAA would treat student-athletes at California schools, but many of the bigger schools don’t even want to test it. 

According to Guitierrez, Cal, USC and Stanford all oppose the bill. 

The next few months are critical…

Not only for student-athletes in California but for student-athletes across the country thanks to the NCAA forming a working group to examine issues highlighted in recently proposed federal and state legislation related to student-athlete name, image and likeness. 

The working group will be moving quickly, with an update provided in August and a final report due to the Board of Governors in October
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College Athletics

Rutgers Draws From Fyre Festival to Celebrate Football Milestone

Rutgers drew inspiration from an unusual source to market the upcoming 150-year-anniversary of the first-ever college football game.

Mike Piellucci

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Photo Credit: Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

At first blush, it’s the oddest of pairings – a 150-year-old brand and an event that failed spectacularly enough to become a pop culture sensation. Yet as Robert Roselli, Assistant Athletic Director of Marketing at Rutgers, kicked around ideas to celebrate an important football milestone on campus, he couldn’t get the Fyre Festival out of his head.

On November 6th, 1869, Rutgers hosted the first-ever intercollegiate football game, where it defeated the College of New Jersey – today known as Princeton – six points to four. It makes Rutgers the “birthplace of college football,” a designation it wields proudly. With the 150th anniversary of the game drawing near, though, Roselli came to realize that the university had a problem on its hands: A sizeable portion of the student body has no idea exactly how deep the school’s football roots run.

So Roselli decided to launch a brand awareness campaign to remedy that. To do so, he ripped a page out of the Fyre Festival’s playbook. In execution, the so-called “luxury music festival” was an unmitigated disaster. The marketing strategy behind it, however, was cutting edge. The crown jewel was an Instagram influencer campaign in which 400 models posted an image of a bright orange tile with the hashtag #fyrefestival. The idea was to promote the event in a heavily saturated way that nevertheless avoided coming off as canned. Simple visuals trumped complicated text, and hashtags were kept to a minimum.

READ MORE: How The 2019 Masters Revived ‘The Tiger Effect’

“I think I always had it in the back of my head ‘Wow, that was a pretty bold strategy, it generated a lot of buzz. How can we potentially mimic something?” Roselli says.

In early March, he tasked Sophia Tian, Rutgers’ executive marketing intern with finding out. The goal was to increase awareness of the phrase “birthplace of college football” ahead of Rutgers’ spring football game on April 13th. From there, she says, “this became my baby for the next month-and-a-half.”

“Obviously we don’t have Instagram models [or a] tropical lifestyle here at New Brunswick,” she says of her challenge. “How can we make students fear missing out and how can we catch their attention at first?”

The showcase item was a grey giveaway t-shirt to be given away at spring game, which, naturally, read “The Birthplace of College Football” in alternating red and white text. Later, a red tile was added to mirror Fyre Festival’s orange look. She then reached out to 20 friends to serve as her own Instagram influencers and eventually expanded the group to better reflect the student body’s diversity. Student-athletes were approached, too, in the name of adding further star power.

Tian rolled out the campaign in three waves on the 11th, two days before the game. The first came at 7:00 p.m., with the influencers posting pictures of themselves in the shirt – cut or styled any way they chose so long as the words were visible. The second, also at 7:00, was a wave of Instagram stories with the red tile and – “in obnoxiously small font,” Tian notes – the words, “The Birthplace of College Football.”

But the coup de grace was the third wave, in which Tian personally distributed the shirts to bartenders and doormen at some of Rutgers’ most popular student bars in time for the 10:00 p.m. Thursday night rush.

“Right after you see it all over your social media, you get ready to go out and go out and then you see the shirt again,” Tian says. “It’s basically haunting you.”

All told, Roselli and Tian consider the initiative a resounding success. According to Roselli, while student attendance at the spring game mostly mirrored that of the year before, growing that number was always considered an “’icing on the cake’-kind of thing.” Instead, they focused on buzz and measurable trends. To that end, Roselli proudly points to the Google search metrics during the hours of the campaign, which saw an explosion in the number of “The Birthplace of College Football” queries.

The larger future of the project has yet to be determined. For Roselli, it’s not only a successful test of his initial hypothesis, but something that opened his eyes to the possibilities that come from a whole new style of marketing.

READ MORE: 3X3U National Championship Puts a College Spin on Three-on-Three

“I’m confident that had we done this same exact campaign that only focused on our coaches and our different team accounts — what I would call official spokespeople of Rutgers Athletics — it simply would not have created the same buzz, the same coolness factor,” he says.

In the more immediate term, though, it’s a launchpad for their ongoing campaign. The official 150-year anniversary of the first college football game is still more than six months away, and neither Roselli nor Tian wants to let the momentum gained from the influencer marketing campaign slip through their fingers.

“I think raising the awareness now sets their student body up for what’s to come next year,” Tian says. “We are celebrating the 150th anniversary and we also want to capitalize on that message this whole year, this upcoming season. We want to make sure everyone knows that this is where it all started.”

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3X3U National Championship Puts a College Spin on Three-on-Three

The Dos Equis 3X3U National Championship takes place on Final Four weekend and joins events like the Olympics and BIG3 in growing three-on-three hoops.

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Photo Credit: Ray Carlin-USA TODAY Sports

Paris Collins was reeling after a disappointing early exit from the Southwestern Athletic Conference tournament last March. It was an unceremonious end to the career of the senior guard from Jackson State, and he wanted nothing to do with anyone. But as he wallowed in his apartment, his phone rang. A strange number flashed on the screen. He didn’t answer, but a voicemail dinged.

It was Intersport Vice President Mark Starsiak, who called to invite Collins to be part of the inaugural Dos Equis 3X3U National Championship, a three-on-three basketball tournament for college seniors. Collins accepted and, following several standout performances on the court in his hometown of San Antonio, he was invited to five NBA workouts. He ultimately bounced around the NBA G-League before ending up in Mexico.

“It changed my life,” Collins said. “A lot of people saw me, saw the SWAC has good players.  That tournament is the only time in my life I wasn’t judged by the school on my chest.”

READ MORE: How Dos Equis’ Basketball Tournament Is Following in Hulk Hogan’s Footsteps

Now the tournament is back, with the second-annual 3X3U National Championship beginning Friday at the Mall of America in Minneapolis featuring a grand prize of $150,000. With one year in the books, Intersport believes they are much better prepared to organize the best event possible, something that should have a direct impact on the players’ futures.  Of the 128 players in last year’s 3X3U National Championship field, nearly 90 signed professional contracts this past year. This year, the rosters might be even more loaded with potential pros.

“One of the things we learned last year was [to] get ahead of it,” Intersport Executive Vice President Drew Russell said. “Especially for the small conferences trying to get as much exposure as possible. Last year we couldn’t get in touch [with players] or they made spring break plans. These are guys that have been in programs for four years, and if they have a taste of freedom, they’re gone.

“Last year, we had to go deeper into rosters. This year, we got pick of the litter.”

Case in point, prior to the Sweet 16 games in the NCAA Tournament, Starsiak had already filled all but 11 of 128 roster spots in this year’s event, with each Division I conference represented by a team of four seniors. At the same point last year, he didn’t even have 40 in place. As they picked through teams no longer in the postseason, Starsiak said plenty of all-conference players have signed on hoping for one more pre-draft showcase. Likewise, conferences were eager to help connect the best players to the event.

“The more chances they have to get their players and conferences exposure is a good thing,” Starsiak said. “The conferences have really embraced it.”

With the conferences on board and the players being willing to vouch for the tournament, Russell expects the event to continue growing beyond this year. Along with pathways to the NBA and other leagues, Russell believes three-on-three is a growing career path for basketball players, one accelerated by the sport’s inclusion in the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games as well as Ice Cube’s BIG3.

“We feel this is the top-level, premier event in the world but definitely in North America,” Russell said. “When we created this, we didn’t want to use gym rats. We wanted elite level basketball players that would go on to continue playing basketball. We wanted to give them one last time to put on the jersey, compete at a high level and have fun.”

The professional ranks have taken notice, too. According to Starsiak, five NBA teams had a scouting presence at last year’s tournament even without the league reaching out to NBA staffs. This year, to better drum up interest, Intersport sent a one-sheeter to the NBA’s director of scouting, who then passed it on to each team.

“It should bring in way more than five,” Starsiak said. “It’s the biggest aggregation of draft-eligible talent. Guys who are scouting [the Final Four] will also be at our event, full of late-first- to second-round talent that could eventually change a franchise.”

READ MORE: NBA Associates Program Offers Former Players a Path Back to Basketball

For the seniors at the tournament in Minneapolis, it’s one last opportunity to wear a college jersey as well as one extra job audition. But after going through the process himself, Collins’ advice to this year’s crop would be to make sure to have a good time, too. 

“I was happy as heck to be there,” Collins said. “It’s a national tournament, still business talking to reporters, teams and people about what you do. But have fun, be grateful.”

Collins hasn’t stuck with an NBA team, but he’s had more opportunities than he ever thought would. He’s off to China in May for his next professional venture. By this time next year, he could run into another alumnus or two from the Dos Equis 3X3U National Championship along the way.

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